Alternative Explanations for Alien Abduction Experiences

Those who are skeptical of claims that aliens abduct humans contend that these recollections are hallucinations, fantasies, visions, or dreams. Others suggest that abductees are not imagining their experiences, but they theorize that the abductors are not extraterrestrials but rather beings from someplace on Earth—possibly from a realm hidden deep underground, the future, or another dimension.

Skeptics who dismiss alien abduction experiences altogether typically accuse abductees of being mentally ill, desperate for attention, or easily manipulated by unscrupulous people who want the public to believe in extraterrestrials. Skeptics also say that well-intended therapists sometimes accidentally plant the memories of abduction during hypnosis. Experts in hypnosis say that such false memories can be created if a session is incorrectly conducted. In fact, experts say that even correctly conducted, hypnosis can alter an existing memory.

Childhood Memories

Whatever the cause, some psychologists theorize that abduction experiences are distortions of childhood memories. Of those who hold this view, the majority suspect that the distorted abduction experience is a memory of abuse that occurred during childhood. Indeed, many abductees also report having been victims of this type of trauma. These psychologists say that supposed abductees subconsciously create an abduction as an expression of the helplessness they felt as children; the aliens represent the person who abused them. However, abduction researcher David M. Jacobs, who believes that aliens and abduction experiences are real, argues that this theory fails to explain cases in which abductees have no history of abuse.

For this reason, some psychologists offer a different theory, suggesting that abductees are actually remembering their own births. Under this theory, all human beings carry a memory of the birth process, but only a few can access this memory. These individuals, however, remember their birth symbolically. Thus, the dark tunnel leading into the alien spaceship symbolizes the birth canal; the aliens’ brightly lit examining room that abductees enter is the hospital delivery room; and the strange, seemingly mouthless aliens are delivery-room doctors and nurses wearing surgical masks. But again, Jacobs argues that this theory is flawed because it fails to account for abductees who recall a dark tunnel but who were born by cesarean section. Moreover, he says that abductees’ descriptions of aliens are so detailed, specific, and consistent with one another that they must be real.

The Imaginal Realm

Other observers believe abduction experiences are real, but they say that the abductors are not extraterrestrial. Dr. Kenneth Ring, for example, has suggested that the aliens come from another dimension, which he calls the imaginal realm, and that abductees are people who are able to access this realm after unintentionally slipping into a mystical or visionary state. Ring believes that beings in the imaginal realm are invisible to most people, but that abductees have developed the ability to see them. Moreover, Ring suggests that the abductees’ talent for bridging the gap between everyday reality and the imaginal realm is an evolved trait, which means that someday everyone will be able to mentally connect to the imaginal realm.

But whereas Ring views the aliens as real beings who can only be perceived through an altered mental state, other psychologists have suggested that the aliens are actually created by an altered mental state. This state, they say, is one in which mystical or religious visions are mistaken for encounters with aliens. Still others argue that the unconscious mind creates aliens out of universal dream imagery or creatures drawn from folklore.

Media Influences

Skeptics say that abductees describe their experiences in such similar ways because the popular media have influenced their perceptions. In particular, they argue that the first widely reported case of alien abduction, that of Betty and Barney Hill in 1961, was inspired by Betty Hill’s fascination with UFO stories. Skeptics note that shortly before her supposed abduction, Betty Hill had been reading a book about the possibility that extraterrestrials were visiting Earth, and she had shared what she read with her husband. In addition, the aliens Barney Hill described were strikingly similar to those that appeared in a television show called Outer Limits just twelve days prior to the Hills’ supposed abduction. Skeptics go on to suggest that similarities among all subsequent abduction accounts are to be expected, given that the Hills’ story was widely circulated. Those who believe the abductions are real are equally adamant, saying that the similarities reflect the fact that aliens nearly always conduct abductions and examinations in the same way.


  • Alien Abduction Experiences
  • David M. Jacobs
  • Kenneth Ring


The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning